What I’ve learned: Jonathan Ive
On success, Sim-card slots and Steve Jobs.
I can’t even bring myself to say math, instead of maths, so I say mathematics. I sound ridiculous.
Objects and their manufacture are inseparable. You understand a product if you understand how it’s made. I want to know what things are for, how they work, what they can or should be made of, before I even begin to think what they should look like. More and more people do. There is a resurgence of the idea of craft.
Complete intrigue with the physical world starts by destroying it. I remember taking an alarm clock to pieces and it was very difficult to reassemble. I couldn’t get the mainspring rewound.
Steve [Jobs] and I spent months and months working on a part of a product that, often, nobody would ever see, nor realise was there. It didn’t make any difference functionally. We did it because we cared, because when you realise how well you can make something, falling short, whether seen or not, feels like failure.
When we were looking at objects, what our eyes physically saw and what we came to perceive were exactly the same. And we would ask the same questions, have the same curiosity about things.
I don’t like being singled out for attention. Designing, engineering and making these products require large teams.
[My team] is really much smaller than you’d think—about 15. Most of us have worked together for 15 to 20 years. [But] we can be bitterly critical of our work. The personal issues of ego have long since faded. Everyone I work with shares the same love of and respect for making.
It’s very hard to design something that you almost do not see because it just seems so obvious, natural and inevitable.
So much has been written about Steve, and I don’t recognise my friend in much of it. Yes, he had a surgically precise opinion. Yes, it could sting. Yes, he constantly questioned. “Is this good enough? Is this right?” But he was so clever. His ideas were bold and magnificent. They could suck the air from the room. And when the ideas didn’t come, he decided to believe we would eventually make something great. And, oh, the joy of getting there!
[When I went travelling with Steve], we’d get to the hotel and check in. I’d go up to my room but leave my bags by the door. I wouldn’t unpack. I’d go and sit on the bed and wait for the inevitable call from Steve: “Hey Jony, this hotel sucks. Let’s go.”
It’s odd and tough to talk about him, because it doesn’t feel that long ago that he died.
Steve is my closest friend.
We’re surrounded by anonymous, poorly made objects. It’s tempting to think it is because the people who use them don’t care—just like the people who make them. But what we’ve shown is that people do care. It’s not just about aesthetics. They care about things that are thoughtfully conceived and well made. We make and sell a very, very large number of—hopefully—beautiful, well-made things. Our success is a victory for purity, integrity—for giving a damn.
One of the distinct things about our products is that they get reused and passed on. My old iphones? Erm. Actually, they’re not mine. They’re the company’s. We reuse stuff, and then we’ll disassemble or recycle stuff. I understand what’s behind the question, but I think it’s a fundamental—and good—part of the human condition to try to make things better. That’s the role we’re playing.
We don’t take so long and make the way we make for fiscal reasons. Quite the reverse.
The [iphone’s] body is made from a single piece of machined aluminium. The whole thing is polished first to a mirror finish, and then it is very finely textured, except for the Apple logo. The chamfers [smoothed-off edges] are cut with diamond-tipped cutters. The cutters don’t usually last very long, so we had to figure out a way of mass-manufacturing long-lasting ones. The camera cover is sapphire crystal. Look at the details around the Sim-card slot. It’s extraordinary!
The product you have in your hand, or put to your ear, or have in your pocket, is more personal than the product you have on your desk. The struggle to make something as difficult and demanding as technology so intimately personal is what first attracted me to Apple. People have an incredibly personal relationship with what we make.
What people are responding to is much bigger than the object. They are responding to something rare—a group of people who do more than simply make something work; they make the very best products they possibly can. It’s a demonstration against thoughtlessness and carelessness.
Yes. I’d stop [if Apple doesn’t push the envelope anymore]. I’d make things for myself, for my friends at home instead. The bar needs to be high. [But] I don’t think that will happen. We are at the beginning of a remarkable time, when a remarkable number of products will be developed. When you think about technology and what it has enabled us to do so far, and what it will enable us to do in the future, we’re not even close to any kind of limit. It’s still so, so new.
At Apple, there’s almost a joy in looking at your ignorance and realising, “Wow, we’re going to learn about this and, by the time we’re done, we’re going to really understand and do something great.” Apple is imperfect, like every large collection of people. But we have a rare quality. There is this almost pre-verbal, instinctive understanding about what we do, and why we do it. We share the same values.